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“Quantum technology will be as transformational in the 21st Century as harnessing electricity was in the 19th,” says Professor Michael Biercuk, founder and CEO of Sydney-based quantum control company, Q-CTRL, in the company’s introductory homepage video. It’s by no means a controversial statement given the potential power of the technology.
What did it take to wake the world up to cybersecurity in the 21st Century? The warnings were there from the start: how long ago did you first hear a guest ‘technology expert’ on television warning the audience about choosing strong passwords? Since the dawn of the internet, there has been a steady trickle of online horror story headlines: credit card fraud, identity theft, online blackmail and cyberstalking.
Listening to him talk, Thomas Monz from the University of Innsbruck could be talking about any co-working space in the world. At the Austrian Academy of Sciences, he describes researchers milling around a giant coffee table, sitting down with contemporaries from different fields, sparking ideas off each other and trading insights. When he mentions the number of Nobel Laureates who would sit round that table, it sounds almost like an afterthought. When I press him for names, he haltingly compiles a list of names on the fly.
In a TED talk at UCLA in 2016, Alireza Shabani tells a story about falling in love with physics. At the age of ten, his sister found him reading a story book. Unimpressed, she told him that it was time to start reading about science instead, and dragged him to a bookshop where she bought him a weighty tome about atoms. This went down better than you might expect, and a lifelong fascination with physics was born.
Around three minutes before I’m scheduled to talk to Dr. Federico Carminati, chief innovation officer at CERN openlab, I run into a problem. Re-reading his profile on the CERN openlab website, I’ve missed a critical detail. Dr. Carminati is not just exploring novel ways to increase CERN’s computing power through Quantum computing and machine learning. He is also a psychoanalyst, with a certification in something called ‘pet-assisted therapy’. I have never heard of pet-assisted therapy.
Ever wondered how to make something cooler than anything else in the known universe?
That’s the question that greets visitors to the website of Finnish cryogenics company, Bluefors. Their answer: take that something and place it inside one of the company’s dilution refrigerators. Once active, the central compartment of the fridge will chill anything inside to (a fraction of one degree Kelvin above) absolute zero. Absolute zero - the lowest possible energy state for matter; the coldest it is possible to get - would (theoretically) be achieved at -273.15 degrees Celsius. Bluefors’ dilution refrigerators will get you to below 0.01 degrees Celsius of that.
How established must an industry be to become a target for disruption? Not established at all according to William Hurley, known amongst friends and colleagues as “whurley,” a serial entrepreneur and founder of the disruptive quantum computing firm Strangeworks.
With over 100 years of measurement innovation, and over 100 people dedicated to quantum technology, the UK’s National Physical Laboratory is a world leader in innovative science. But there’s a twist. Although there is plenty of scientific research taking place - at a level equivalent to any leading research institute - the NPL’s primary goal is to support British industry. As such, the Quantum Metrology Institute, the organization within the NPL responsible for quantum technologies, is at the cutting edge of developing deployment-ready quantum tools & techniques.
Scaling up quantum circuitry is a significant challenge. Building up even a relatively small system raises the problems of noise and interference, increases error rates, and can eventually jeopardise output completely. But for young start-ups, quantum computing has a second scalability problem: attracting more talent to a field still widely perceived by those on the outside as intimidating, inaccessible and academic. Oxford Quantum Circuits, a spin-out from the University of Oxford, has a solution for the first. CEO Ilana Wisby, Founder, Peter Leek and quantum engineer Brian Vlastakis are working on the second.
How does a 300 year old institution do innovation? That’s the challenge that John Stewart, Global Head of Scouting and Research at NatWest grapples with each day.
If you had invented the Natural Language engine behind Apple’s Siri you might be inclined to rest on your laurels. Not so for machine learning expert Christopher Savoie, CEO and Co-Founder of Zapata Computing. After running data and analytics for Nissan, Christopher launched a photonics company using machine learning capabilities emanating from Alan Aspuru-Guzik’s group at Harvard. Based on that experience, in 2017 Chris and Alan decided to spin out Alan’s quantum information group into what is now Zapata.
At first glance, Matt Johnson’s journey to CEO of QC Ware--the Palo Alto company developing accessible, hardware-agnostic quantum computing software--immediately stands out from the mathematicians, physicists and computer scientists you’d expect to find running a quantum computing company. With an impressive list of Fortune 100 customers, investment from Citigroup, Airbus and Goldman Sachs, and partnerships with NASA and the US National Science Foundation, the company has already established itself as a leader in this emerging field.
The ubiquity of errors in the quantum computing community is an open secret. And yet, for those on the outside, the word ‘computing’ can imply reliability. It’s a simple enough mistake to make for non-experts, who, not unreasonably, conflate quantum computing with its everyday, classical forebear - where technology has progressed to the point where errors at the hardware level are so rare as to be practically inconsequential. We implicitly trust classical computers to perform calculations faultlessly - but in quantum computing, errors are rife.
Xanadu’s Nathan Killoran accepts the scale of the company’s vision: in two years, this two-year-old company of around 35 software and hardware engineers is dedicated to building a scalable photonic quantum computer with accompanying software.
The smart office in downtown San Francisco could be home to a cool ecommerce or tech start-up. Scribbled quadratic equations on a whiteboard, open-plan, and a cute dachshund trotting around, not what you would typically associate with an 81 year old manufacturing giant. But for the past 2 and a half years, this has been the home of Florian Neukart, the Principal Scientist at Volkswagen Group of America, the German automotive leader.
Singapore may not be the first location that comes to mind when identifying quantum technology innovation hubs, but world-class infrastructure, a great scientific knowledge base and plenty of government support has attracted many leading quantum physicists to the steamy island metropolis.
Among them are Tommaso Demarie and Ewan Munro, co-founders of pioneering quantum computing start-up Entropica Labs, who met at Singapore’s Centre for Quantum Technologies. With support, and pre-seed investment from London-based accelerator Entrepreneur First, Tommaso and Ewan have their sights set on transforming computational biology.
You may know Southwark in South London by its magnificent Gothic cathedral. Or by browsing through bustling Borough Market. Or even Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. But there are a couple of guys determined to make Southwark famous for some serious quantum science.
Shahram Mossayebi and Patrick Camilleri are the co-founders of 2-year-old start-up Crypto Quantique. They are developing a solution to address the biggest challenge facing the booming Internet of Things (IoT) market: security. Quantum tech caught up with the two entrepreneurs at their offices in Southwark.